It’s funny how life works. The NY Rangers win the 2020 NHL Draft lottery to land Alexis Lafreniere. Within hours, trade chatter –more like trade conjecture– about trading down from the top pick hits. Now there is talk about how the Rangers will need to trade a wings off the roster to fit Lafreniere.
As it stands today, the Rangers have Chris Kreider (7 years, $6.5 million) and Artemi Panarin (6 years, $11.64 million) at LW. Lafreniere and his very cheap ELC (minimum $925k, max $3 million in bonuses) makes it three top line left wingers on the roster. It is certainly a good problem to have, but it’s not really a “problem” at all.
Lafreniere is cheap
The beauty of Lafreniere is that he is not only an elite potential winger, but his first three years are dirt cheap. His max salary is around $3 million, but only if he hits all of his bonuses. With no other skilled LWs on the roster, the Rangers are in a great spot. Depth matters here, and ice time concerns will work themselves out.
When it comes to power play time, the Rangers will add another offensive threat to make both units lethal. Again, depth matters here.
Injuries will also happen. At some point, the Rangers will likely be out one of those wingers for a period of time. Avoiding a scenario where Brendan Lemieux has to play extended time in the top-six is probably a good thing.
Playing the off-wing isn’t needed yet
Beyond the trade chatter, there was almost immediately talk about who would move to RW. There’s not much room on that side either, with Pavel Buchnevich and Kaapo Kakko locked into top-nine roles next year. Julien Gauthier had a strong play-in round and is a wild card. Then there’s the uncertain future for Jesper Fast. Oh and 9th overall pick Vitali Kravtsov will be fighting for a top-nine role.
RW is certainly not as good as LW, but RW is another strength. The Rangers can run legitimate NHL wingers who can put the puck in the net on all four lines. Three of them are on ELCs, and two are cost-controlled for another couple of years.
Doesn’t mean a trade isn’t happening
All that said, a trade may still happen. But there is a difference in dealing from a position of strength and *needing* to make a trade. The Rangers have an opportunity to deal from their wingers to address a position of weakness.
Jeff Gorton has already hinted that he will use all his assets to make the team better. This includes the winger depth, some RFA contracts, and prospects. I think it’s almost a certainty that the Rangers will make a few moves before or at the draft. But it isn’t a necessity. It’s using assets to better a team.